Shakira, Philosophy, and the Power of Celebrity


A few weeks ago I noted in the Heap of Links that pop star Shakira was taking a course in ancient philosophy at the University of Pennsylvania. Now she has successfully completed the course, sharing the news via Twitter:


The popular press seems to like the story:

This is the most attention philosophy has gotten from these kinds of news outlets since maybe… uhhh… Marco Rubio?

At a time when philosophy departments are threatened by budget cuts, low enrollments, and a failure to appreciate the value of philosophy, perhaps cultivating more celebrity endorsements is an advisable countermeasure.

Maybe philosophy needs an agent.


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Jon Light
Jon Light
1 year ago
Travis Timmerman
1 year ago

I agree. I think some APA funds should be used to hire a good PR firm to get more philosophers on the news and, more generally, in the public eye. Whenever some philosophical question comes up, stations should be contacting philosophers rather than someone like Neil deGrasse Tyson or Bill Nye. No offense to them or their fans. They’ve done lots of great work popularizing science, but public philosophy should be done by philosophers. Using the APA’s resources to get this going seems like a good way to start. I’d even willingly pay more in membership dues were this to become a reality.

To be sure, there’s a ton of great public philosophy out there already. I am thankful for all the philosophers who work so hard to do it. I have even tried to do a bit myself. I would just like to see more of it, both to raise the level of public discourse about philosophical issues and for the sake of our discipline. Report

Michel
Michel
Reply to  Travis Timmerman
1 year ago

Shouldn’t we also be contacting our own university’s PR team, just as the scientists do when they have results they want to share or when they see that an issue on which they’re experts gets into the news cycle?

Sure, they might laugh us off if we send them a press release-y blurb on a new article. But it seems like a good place to start, with already extant PR experts.Report

Travis Timmerman
Reply to  Michel
1 year ago

I agree that is certainly is a good place to start, and it’s something individuals can do, so long as their universities have PR teams. I know university PR teams vary widely in the reach they have, and suspect that a PR team working on behalf of the APA would have a bigger impact than any typical university PR teams. But I agree with you that we should also be contacting our own university’s PR team when we can. Report

Justin Kalef
Justin Kalef
Reply to  Travis Timmerman
1 year ago

Where, exactly, has the APA been on all this for the last decade? We’re paying them vastly more money than ever before. Why isn’t any of that money going to more prominent projects that advocate for the importance of the profession within the university as well as outside of it?Report

Shelley Lynn Tremain
Shelley Lynn Tremain
1 year ago

Travis Timmerman wrote: “To be sure, there’s a ton of great public philosophy out there already. I am thankful for all the philosophers who work so hard to do it. I have even tried to do a bit myself. I would just like to see more of it, both to raise the level of public discourse about philosophical issues and for the sake of our discipline.”

As it happens, I put a post entitled “COVID-19, Nursing Homes, and Public Philosophy” on BIOPOLITICAL PHILOSOPHY earlier this morning. The post should interest everyone, but will be of special interest to Canadian philosophers, philosophers of disability, feminist philosophers, political theorists, and bioethicists. The post, which is a follow up to my post “COVID-19 and the Naturalization of Vulnerability,” can be found here:
https://biopoliticalphilosophy.com/2020/04/25/covid-19-nursing-homes-and-public-philosophy/Report

Nicolas Delon
Nicolas Delon
1 year ago

While I have huge respect for public philosophy I fail to see the connection to the OP, which asked about celebrity endorsements and PR. Public philosophy is all good, but I thought Justin was asking about ways to promote philosophy period (not just public philosophy; I hope our field won’t have to be reduced to public philosophy to survive), of the sort that Shakira learned about. Report

Avalonian
1 year ago

Just FYI, on my streaming services I see that UPenn has just launched a large ad campaign touting their new online experience, running ads which call it “the complete college experience” or something like that. I would not be at all surprised if Shakira’s announcement is part of that campaign. So, yeah, this would be an institution using the COVID crisis to run messages which directly contribute to the further degradation of in-person learning. I do not think that we should be so happy about *this* kind of attention, since as other discussion threads have amply illustrated, our culture’s clueless technocrats would love nothing more than to continue to erode the average student’s educational experience by moving it online.Report